Transforming raw crops into saleable products after harvest is an integral part of the food processing industry, regardless of the crop. Processing equipment used in the industry is continuously refined to make food production more efficient, producing less waste and using less energy. This is particularly important for readily perishable crops, which require speed to get them to market quickly. In addition to the food processing sector, equipment used in processing crops also involves non-food products made from crops like tobacco, hemp, or cotton.

To make valuable agricultural products, crop processing equipment must be sufficiently high quality to yield products that pass the muster of the various rules and regulations guiding the multiple industries that utilize these crops. Moreover, processing machinery should be easy to clean and maintain. Regardless of the application, high-quality crop processing equipment that’s efficient and easily maintained should be part of the overall material handling system for any facility that processes agricultural products.

The Need for Quality Equipment in Crop Processing

Processing crops involves modifying or altering agricultural products after harvest to make them easier to convey, market, store, or transport. It also may include adding other ingredients or components to the bulk agricultural material to alter its makeup during crop processing. Equipment involved in these efforts includes that used to grade, package, and sort these agricultural commodities for food and industrial crops for non-food products.

Some applications for crop processing equipment include: 

  • Beverages both alcoholic and non-alcoholic
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Candies and chocolate
  • Dairy products that include yogurt and dairy-based spreads
  • Frozen fruits and vegetables
  • Hemp-based products
  • Pre-prepared sauces and other foods
  • Textile production
  • Tobacco products

As with any manufacturing, processing crops also requires machinery and systems to do the work efficiently and with as little downtime as possible. It also doesn’t matter what type of agricultural product is being processed. Regardless of the application, the higher the quality of the equipment is, the more efficient the overall process and the higher the profits for the processor will be.

Types of crop processing equipment include:

  • Canning and other preservation equipment: To preserve edible crops via vacuum-sealing and canning machinery to ensure longer shelf lives for food products.
  • Cleaners and graders: Removes dirt, rocks, and other impurities, as well as takes out any damaged product from harvested crops while also separating by size and ensuring uniformity.
  • Coffee processing machinery: Utilized for hulling, pumping, and roasting coffee beans to prepare them for brewing, along with grinding machines for ground coffee.
  • Conveying systems: Used to transport raw agricultural material within a facility, while also used in tandem with machines that grade, clean and classify as well.
  • Cotton gins: Separates cotton fibers from the seeds and other parts of the plant.
  • Dehydrators: Eliminates excess moisture from vegetables, spices, fruits, herbs, and other crops to preserve them, prolonging their shelf lives.
  • Fruit and vegetable crop processing equipment: Peel, slice, and extract juice from fruits and vegetables to make processed foods.
  • Grain dryers: Removes moisture content after harvest to prevent spoilage while stored and preserve the quality of the grain.
  • Milling machines: Includes hammer mills and rotary mills for processing rice and other grains into flours, meals, and other milled agricultural materials.
  • Nut shelling equipment: Removes shells from various nuts, including almonds, walnuts, and peanuts.
  • Oilseed processing machinery: Extracts oils from seed crops like canola, soybeans, and sunflower for culinary or industrial use; this includes crushers, presses, refining, and other processing equipment.
  • Potato harvesters: Removes potatoes from the ground during harvest, after which they’re deposited in containers or piles. 
  • Sorting and packaging machinery: To select and package fruits, vegetables and other food crops for consumption.

The range of crop processing equipment goes beyond just these examples. Whether used for food or non-food production, all agricultural products must undergo some processing to make these materials more useful to the end user. This includes processing grains into flour for bakeries, plant fibers like cotton for clothing factories, sugars into different grades for candy makers, and spices packaged to be sold on the shelves of grocery stores. However, processing equipment should be of the highest quality to produce the most marketable agricultural products from a crop.

Advantages of Using High-Quality Crop Processing Equipment

Higher-quality machinery produces higher-quality end products while also lasting longer. While high-quality processing equipment for crops may cost more initially, it saves the manufacturer over time. Larger machines offer better reliability, crucial in crop processing facilities, and often come with extended warranties, as manufacturers anticipate their longer lifespan.

But beyond these advantages, there are more reasons to choose high-quality machines when designing any crop processing system. While the components of a higher quality machine will no doubt be more robust and need less maintenance, more reliable machinery also translates to a safer work environment, as faulty equipment often results in more on-the-job injuries. Additionally, equipment of higher quality will be easier to disassemble and reassemble for maintenance and cleaning. All these things, in turn, increase an operation's efficiency, leading to greater profitability.

Strategies for Selecting the Best Crop Processing Equipment

Choosing the best processing equipment for agricultural materials is similar to selecting machinery to fit any processing system. It’s vital to utilize automation wherever possible to decrease fatigue, enhance worker safety and lower labor costs, while also expediting handling to keep perishable crops from spoiling. Systems should also be designed for efficiency to ensure all crop processing equipment within a system works at full capacity.

When selecting process equipment for a system, economics inevitably plays a central role. The goal is to look beyond the initial machinery cost and consider how quality equipment can lower expenses by increasing capacity and reducing liability. A comparative analysis of similar machines should be done, while equipment selection should also consider how easily it can be integrated into the overall system. This might include looking at the space in which it must fit, door positioning and size, elevators, ramps and other external parts of the machine.

Any crop processing system will have breakdowns, regardless of the quality of equipment, so having workarounds that help prevent downtime will play into a machine’s cost-effectiveness. When choosing crop processing equipment, system designers should also consider how easy each machine is to clean, maintain and repair, so putting together a preventive maintenance plan – whether in-house or via the equipment manufacturer – will both improve performance and lengthen lifespan. Finally, all systems are subject to change, so it’s important to plan for expansion by anticipating future processing needs.

Increasing Crop Processing Equipment Lifespan & Performance Through Maintenance 

Quality crop processing machinery still needs maintenance to perform at its peak throughout its lifecycle. Unplanned downtime due to breakdowns adversely affects productivity, which in turn negatively affects profit. It’s essential that equipment used in crop processing is capable of withstanding heavy use as well, which is why regular maintenance is absolutely integral.

To keep crop processing equipment running smoothly and prevent breakdowns, it’s important to:

  • Check screens, sifters, and other filtering implements frequently to guarantee top performance and avert product contamination.
  • Clean crop processing equipment of contaminants and product residue regularly to keep it functioning efficiently.
  • Confirm that safety features like emergency stop mechanisms, guardrails, or shields are working correctly and that they will perform effectively when needed.
  • Examine electrical systems periodically to make sure they function appropriately, including inspection of any electrical connections, switches or wiring.
  • Inspect belts on motors often for signs of misalignment, undue stiffness, and wear, adjusting and replacing components as necessary.
  • Keep records of maintenance and repairs that include parts replaced, along with when and type of work done; this creates a service history that helps manufacturers anticipate future maintenance needs.
  • Lubricate all moving parts to decrease the effects of friction and avoid premature wear; lubrication should additionally follow the equipment manufacturer’s recommendations as to the frequency and type of lubricant used.
  • Schedule regular inspections and preventive maintenance of essential crop processing equipment components to prevent unplanned downtime.
  • Inspect for any damage or wear, including cracks, dents, leaks, or loose parts.

Operators should be trained to tell when something is wrong when processing agricultural products. Regardless of the crop, processing equipment will show signs when it’s about to fail. Understanding signs like overheating, strange noises, or vibrations will help keep a significant breakdown from happening.

Benefits of Investing in Quality Crop Processing Machines

Processing crops adds value to agricultural products. It might be as simple as washing vegetables or grading fruit before they go to market or as complex as making cheese or brewing beer. It can also involve canning, cooking, separating fibers, drying, or any techniques used to process a crop. Processing equipment for agricultural products must do various tasks, with each part of a system focused on a particular job.

Crop processing equipment is used to: 

  • Clean agricultural products of dirt and other debris through spraying or soaking.
  • Convey agricultural products within the facility.
  • Cooling and freezing produce and other farm products to increase shelf life.
  • Crush fruits, vegetables or other plants for juices or to extract oils. 
  • Dry agricultural materials as part of more extensive processing, including vegetables, grain, hay, and fruit.
  • Grade and sort produce according to size, shape, quality, and color.
  • Grind grains to produce feed for livestock.
  • Heat farm products to kill bacteria and other microbes.
  • Mill grains to produce flour or to separate plant fiber in crops like cotton and hemp.
  • Package crops and their derivatives in bulk, individually, or in specific groups.
  • Reduce particle size of crops, such as milling grains to produce flour or processing different grades of sugars.
  • Separate heavier from lighter agricultural materials during processing, with crop processing equipment like air classifiers or gravity separators.
  • Shred edible farm products to help manage mixing or drying.
  • Sterilize containers before packaging agricultural goods for later retail sale.
  • Wash fruits, vegetables and other crops to ensure they’re sanitary and contain no pollutants.

Additionally, crop processing equipment can treat crops to improve appearance or lengthen shelf life chemically. Certain processing operations instead utilize biological treatments, as with yeast in brewing beer. Regardless of the crop, processing equipment benefits processors of agricultural products by adding value.

Considerations When Choosing and Purchasing Crop Processing Machinery

Numerous considerations exist when a processing facility shops for new crop processing equipment. Whether replacing an old machine or expanding a system for processing agricultural products, its essential to carefully evaluate what machinery will best suit an application..

Prater Industries has been designing bulk material handling machinery for industries that work with cultivated products for nearly a century. Prater designs crop processing equipment and systems that feed, grind, mill and sift both raw and prepared agricultural products for manufacturers in numerous industries, including for the processing of animal feed, food, grains, hemp, plant-based proteins, spices and sugar. To learn more about our products and services, contact the experts at Prater to learn more.